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Our forces have surrounded the modern city of Vale; a large metropolis of over 5 million citizens who all have decided to try and rebel against us and form their own country. The city has large dams and industrial cattle farms; food and water are not concerns, nor is power as the city also uses the dams for water. In order to make an example of this kind of naughty behavior our king has decided to destroy the city.

Before a heavy assault besieges the city, the king has decided to first send in a squad of 50 of his highest trained soldiers to do as much chaos as possible to the city first in order to cause as much chaos as possible. He has given them a budget of 10 million dollars and 3 months, they need to cause as much chaos to the Vale rebellion as possible. What actions can these soldiers do in the 3 months to cause the most mayhem?

There are a few things to consider;

  • Let's define Mayhem as the combined factors of damage repair cost and death tolls.
  • The city and its land must remain standing, but not its people.
  • The city is collectively rebelling and therefore there is no rebel leader.
  • Please refrain from answers resulting in the demolition of the city; including nukes and large scale destruction.
  • The citizens are rebelling because of the problems with this city design.
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    $\begingroup$ Cows? In the city? You've obviously never been around a feed lot, nobody wants to have one of those as a neighbor. Plus you need a place for the cows to stand around and be cows while they eat, and stuff, until they grow up enough to be eaten. Acres and acres, plus all the space to grow food for the cows. (ask any veg head how inefficient cows are as a food source) But anyways, easy to spot and bomb from the air. Dams are not water sources, they block up rivers to make giant pools of water that anyone can drop stuff into (like dead cows) you still have to process it $\endgroup$ – Seeds Aug 11 '16 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid that human nature defines rebellion in a different light than mere 'negative cooperation'. Your small band of insurgents are likely to catalyze a movement that strengthens the rebellion, as the differences between "we" and "they" become apparent. I suggest that putting down a rebellion is a matter of taking over from the inside... just my opinion $\endgroup$ – Joe Aug 11 '16 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ This question feels like a very unlikely scenario. A 5M person city with it's own cattle farms (hardly the most efficient form of food)? You generally don't have that, or indeed a city that large that isn't reliant on trade (compare w/NYC @8.4M). Are you talking about a city state? Is the city border secure? How? How do they house their own food production/sustenance (something no city on earth does)? Are they under siege? Why do we think the rebels have a chance of success? Without knowing a lot more we're just speculating wildly. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 11 '16 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's quite important to know why the king wants to do this. What is the aim of using this small force to harass the city when he intends to destroy it anyway? If it isn't to beat the rebels into submission, what's the point when he could just order a large scale assault and be done with the entire problem? $\endgroup$ – Jules Aug 12 '16 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ According to this imdb.com/title/tt0275847 source, maximum disruptive effect can be attained by backing up sewers, reversing street signs, and stealing everyone's left shoe. $\endgroup$ – A. I. Breveleri Aug 14 '16 at 13:19

14 Answers 14

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Assassinate the Garbage Collectors

Every city has workers at the bottom, doing the nasty, dirty jobs needed to keep a city livable. Chances are, dear reader, you yourself don't 'see' these people in the places you live, yourself. These people run regular routes, serve everyone, and are likely to be amongst the least protected because they hold jobs people disrespect out of proportion to their need.

New York has roughly 9,250 sanitation workers for a population of 8.4M. We can assume, therefore, that our target city has ~5500 sanitation workers, all working at odd hours all over the city, likely without protection. Starting with the lowest-class areas, where police response will be the slowest, our commandos attack garbage routes, killing sanitation workers and disabling or destroying their equipment.

Even better, they generally don't have to be there to do it. Bombs can be placed in garbage, designed to explode at certain times, when being crushed by compactors, or when they detect they're being moved a certain amount (thrown in to the back of a garbage vehicle). This serves to both damage equipment and harm or kill the sanitation workers.

After the initial surge, hopefully decimating the sanitation workforce, psychological warfare can be played: garbage bags with 'I am a bomb' written on it. 'Tickers' set up inside trash cans that simply... tick. Or sometimes blow up. Or just go 'poof', scaring the bejeezus out of someone. Standard 'I am a Thirty Second Bomb' tactics targeted at sanitation - the key is to make it unpredictable, and sometimes deadly. After making it clear sanitation workers are under threat, and then making it unclear if at any moment they might be killed, the sanitation mechanism will grind to a halt. To hustle it along, the commandos can start to target sanitation leadership, removing the body of knowledge on how to best manage such a large scale of sanitation need, or make a splashy assault of a waste management facility, burning it to the ground and releasing a cloud of methane gas that takes weeks to clear out of the neighborhood.

Five million people produce a lot of trash. Dealing with a new reality where a non-critical critical piece of infrastructure is under attack, the rebels will have to divert significant resources to either protect this piece of infrastructure (thus not doing something else), allow the garbage to pile up (with associated health and morale concerns), or find a way to take out the commandos (assuming they're able to figure out that there are, in fact, commandos - this could be disguised). The sanitation workers would be in constant fear for their lives. It would be the sort of low-level chaos headache a rebel commander really wouldn't want to deal with.

And then you give the cows Mad Cow disease, or at least suggest the cows have it - or some similar thing. Any additional shock to the public understanding of their health and safety will make them deeply question whether the rebel leadership has their best interests at heart. This works doubly well if all such leadership are actually spared any direct attack. If the lower and middle classes are the ones under the primary stress, it will fracture their support from those at the top. In a few months, King Thin-Skinned will have a pretty easy time coming in and taking out the rebels. Once conquered, he has a ready-made, easy way to secure popularity: importing a bunch of extra sanitation workers to clean up the city and make it markedly better than it was under rebel hands.

Post Script: I don't know enough about main sewer lines, but again, there is a piece of critical infrastructure that is not 'critical' in the sense that it is guarded, and could be messed with. Not everywhere, but in enough places that you make things grody and unpleasant for the populace.

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    $\begingroup$ As Mike Rowe says: people do dirty jobs to make civilization possible for the rest of us. Remove those dirty jobs, and civilization will grind to a halt. $\endgroup$ – user1975 Aug 11 '16 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ Also see 1981.nyc/christmas-trash-strike-1981 $\endgroup$ – AmazingDreams Aug 12 '16 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ What would happen if the city arranged for new garbage collectors? Would they be assassinated too? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Aug 12 '16 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ "Abandon all the telephone sanitizers!" -- Golgafrinchans in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy $\endgroup$ – Tony Aug 12 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ You, mister, is my candidate for Evil Mastermind of the Year. Excellent plan! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 12 '16 at 20:19
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The city and its land must remain standing, but not its people.

Biological warfare is the most obvious answer to this question that fits that requirement. With a small band of infected individuals (or simply carriers of diseases), you could wreak havoc on the city through the spread of disease. That money could just be spent on chasing down diseases that aren't common to the people of that city.

Depending on the the technology available, this could vary from genetically engineered viruses spread through public water systems to infecting their animals with human-transmissible diseases.

Even in ancient times, biological warfare was in play, from Wikipedia:

Poison:

During the First Sacred War in Greece, in about 590 BC, Athens and the Amphictionic League poisoned the water supply of the besieged town of Kirrha (near Delphi) with the toxic plant hellebore.

Diseased corpses accidentally infecting people:

During the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks, often by flinging fomites such as infected corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults.

And possibly purposely spreading diseases from other areas:

Australian aborigines (Kooris) have always maintained that the British deliberately spread smallpox in 1789...

Modern biological weapons/techniques are much, much more dangerous and could take out everyone in that city with minimal effort.

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    $\begingroup$ How is biological the most obvious? The most obvious is an enhanced radiation bomb, aka neutron bomb. Often described as killing everyone in a city but leaves all the buildings standing. $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 13 '16 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Aron Wouldn't it leave radiation? $\endgroup$ – beppe9000 Aug 13 '16 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @beppe9000 Yup. But depending on how you tune it. The residual radiation could be safe from anywhere between a few days to 50years. Except we tend to call the later "salted bombs" or Cobalt Bombs. $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 13 '16 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: "Although neutron bombs are commonly believed to "leave the infrastructure intact", with current designs that have explosive yields in the low kiloton range,[39] detonation in a built up area would still cause considerable, although not total, destruction through blast and heat effects out to a considerable radius." $\endgroup$ – TheRobotCarlson Aug 14 '16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @TheRobotCarlson> in a built up area, sure, but what about above the area, say 10km upwards? $\endgroup$ – spectras Aug 14 '16 at 16:59
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Oh @TrEs-2b.... you make this so easy:

food and water are not concerns, nor is power

Then your 50 guys make them become concerns (*).

Modern societies are highly vulnerable because of our reliance on clean and safe water, a secure food supply, and electricity 24/7. Threaten any of these and you will see chaos very quickly. If this rebellious city-state has also chosen to not rely on any outside help, then this is a complete no-brainer.

  • Ricin and anthrax bombs at key water distribution points (there is a reason such points are usually kept secret)
  • Same on the meat farms
  • Attack the power grid and knock out key components that cannot be replaced on site but instead have to be delivered from outside.

The irony is of course that your city becomes its own undoing by going the anti-authoritarian route. We form a society for the added security of helping each other with — among other things — these very basic needs.

Fitting this into your premise is no problem at all. Look at any of the green ("green" as in the political color, same as blue and red) ideology movements and see what they are all about: de-centralization, self-reliance, avoid being dependent on large utilities. This is why they are all up in arms against the big companies; because these companies have us by our figurative balls.

So your city suddenly goes ideologically green, saying "No, we dont need you! We are self-sustaining. We can do this on our own".

But things like water, food and power, that is not at all easy to do on your own. Especially not when someone throws a monkey-wrench in the machinery...

I highly recommend you watch the end of the epic movie Lawrence of Arabia to see this entire scenario played out, in the city of Damascus. Watch how the British just smirk, lean back and wait for the inevitable to happen. Then they just walk in and take over.

(*) First rule of hackers, saboteurs and similar: as soon as anyone says "Don't do this, or it will be a problem", or "That thing is never any problem"... guess once where these guys will be focusing their efforts.

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    $\begingroup$ Infect their population? Bah. Infect the population of their cows. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Aug 13 '16 at 17:15
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Since widespread destruction is not an option, I would engage in small-scale destruction. Attack infrastructure that can be replaced without rebuilding the whole city.

Blow up the sewage treatment plants. Maybe target specific machinery that cannot be produced in the city, but can be replaced once the city is reclaimed.

Once the sewers back up: toilets overflow with feces, showers fill up with water, kitchens are unsanitary messes.

People will be in close proximity to nastiness including feces: remember, this is a city. Rather than walking outside of their rural or suburban home, we have hundreds of people living in close proximity in apartment highrises. Disease will spread. People will starve due to any room remotely resembling a kitchen being a disgusting, filthy mess. Families don't really have yards or personal spaces other than apartments where they can live in extenuating circumstances. Apartment is full of raw sewage: where do you go? The roof? The streets? Either option is demoralizing.

In general, "living indoors" will become impossible. People will be weak, sick, and utterly demoralized.

By the time your soldiers move in to reclaim the city, killing its residents will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Then the cleanup begins...

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    $\begingroup$ did you steal this idea from the garbage collector killer? posted it 2 hours later... $\endgroup$ – USER_8675309 Aug 12 '16 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @USER_8675309 nope. As soon as I read the question, the first thing that popped in my head was "made the inhabitants live in their own feces." $\endgroup$ – user1975 Aug 12 '16 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ "literally be wallowing in their own filth" - As in "To live in filth or gross vice; to behave in a beastly and unworthy manner"? Because neither "To roll oneself about, as in mire; to tumble and roll about; to move lazily or heavily in any medium; to flounder; as, swine wallow in the mire. " nor "To immerse oneself in, to occupy oneself with, metaphorically." fits. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Aug 13 '16 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak well I guess you could look it up in the dictionary and take it literally, or just say "living in an apartment with feces overflowing the toilet" is really damn gross. Remember, this is a city: rather than going outside on one's two-acre country property, we have hundreds of people living in a single building with overflowing sewage. $\endgroup$ – user1975 Aug 14 '16 at 3:52
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Go after the road networks first, bridges are ideal bottlenecks.

  • Cripple the ability for the rebels to logistically move around the city. They have food supplies, but the ability to move those food supplies and distribute them around the city are easy targets (and also easier to rebuild after the city is taken). Roads to and from the cattle factories (trains as well) mean the city can't access it's own food supply.

  • removes their ability to move their own tactical items around the city. It's far harder to defend a city when you can't move equipment around as you need

  • Isolate the populations. Communities without roads result in isolated and un-supplied populations (what good is a grocery market without a road to get food there). This is a heavy pressure on the population as they'll have to resort to other means to get the items they need and even travel to their places of work. Public transit (light rail?) also make ideal targets as this restricts peoples movement around their own city.

Second is to further demoralize the population...terror tactics work.

  • Locate large gathering area's in the city, busy intersections or public meeting area's work best, and create make shift bombs. Death tolls are kinda meaningless here, as long as there are some death, people are going to be scared of entering these large public areas. This also limits their ability to gather and plan.

  • Banks and financial targets. Cripple them economically and make people afraid to access their financials.

  • Data centers. Might take a little more research, but most IT networks follow a hub and spoke setup. If you can locate the key information hubs in this city, you can cripple their ability to communicate. Add in that they are already isolated from public area's, road networks, and now communications, you will inhibit their ability to organize. (as a side note, cell towers could work as targets, as well as satellite arrays)

  • aid centers. This one is a bit more mean, but as food supplies become harder to access, people will have to resort to aid. Aid is usually distributed from a central source...if people are too afraid to enter an area where aid is given, how exactly do they get their food?

  • Power distribution hubs. Same idea as the networks...if you can locate the main power substations that route the power, hitting a few key facilities could drop their entire power grid. Bonus points if your elite soldiers can find a way to spike electricity on the grid...try to fry all electronics attached to the power grid before dropping it.

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This a really FUN question. I love it!

There's plenty that can be done.

All people need food, clothing, and shelter. All attacks against the Vale citizens should keep that fundamental fact in mind. Here are some very important examples:

1) Transportation choke points and hubs should be destroyed. Supplying food, clothing, and shelter is impossible without transportation. All important transportation arteries (bridges) and hubs should be destroyed simultaneously. It would take Valeans a VERY long time to repair this damage. This will go a long way in making life miserable for the Valeans.

2) Critical water supply lines should be poisoned with a chemical that isn't detectable by taste. Many people will die before the cause is determined.

3) The most critical avenues of communication must be severed to allow steps #1 and #2 to take place. An electromagnetic pulse weapon would be ideal for this. A misinformation campaign should be waged simultaneously to maximize confusion by using friendly military communication technology.

4) Any weapons stores should be destroyed and any police forces that may exist should be neutralized.

5) A neutron bomb would be ideal for destroying people and leaving all infrastructure intact. That's why neutron bombs were made. They tear DNA apart.

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  • $\begingroup$ EMP device? You mean a nuke? We have yet to build conventional EMP weapons. $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 14 '16 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Aron There are non-nuclear as well as nuclear EMP weapons. $\endgroup$ – Inquisitive Aug 14 '16 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ If you are talking about an explosively pumped flux compression generator, there has been some limited success in coupling them with an antenna. They are so far scaled to tactical level of effects. Since this question is about strategic results, no, there are no conventional EMP weapons. Using conventional EMP weapons would in effect mean conventional carpet bombing the city. $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 15 '16 at 3:06
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If you want to cripple a large population center, you target the infrastructure, not the people.

A lot of your money is going to go to explosives and highly energetic combustibles (and hey, those are pretty cheap...so your money will go a long way). Your first goal is the dams...blow them up. This deprives the city of water and power and also wipes out anything downstream of the dam in a flood.

Without running water and power, industrial-scale cattle farms lose the ability to keep up their industrial pace, thus crippling their food output...however, they may have generators and other back-ups to keep them running for a bit longer, so your next goal is to set as many of these industrial farms on fire as you can. Use plenty of accelerants, make the fires spread like mad. Target the stables and slaughterhouses.

They have now lost the ability to replenish their food and water supplies on a scale able to keep up with 5 million citizens. This will also result in any foods that are not shelf-stable going bad (anything frozen or refrigerated) within a few days.

You are going to want to make these strikes as quickly as possible so the rebels don't have time to reinforce their defenses enough to stop you.

Now you just sit back and strike at targets of opportunity (anywhere that looks too stable or has a large stock of supplies...again, fire and explosives are your go-to options) while the city rips itself apart. A Metropolis cannot survive without a steady input of mass amounts of food and water, and in a crisis where food and water are limited, people tend to start fighting over it (Even the lead-up to a hurricane sees fistfights in supermarkets as people are trying to stock up on supplies).

Add to this the fact that the rebels will try to prioritize getting food and water for their soldiers (you can't expect an army to succeed on the field if they aren't eating/drinking), and now you have the citizens of the metropolis fighting the rebels for food, making things even more chaotic.

Ultimately, it's classic siege doctrine. Block access to the outside world, destroy their food and water, let time and human nature do the rest. Sure, they were unhappy when they were part of the kingdom, but at least they had food.

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    $\begingroup$ Would be good, if not for the requirement to keep the city intact. That presumably includes the dams as well. $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Aug 12 '16 at 4:11
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, I answered the question before he added that requirement. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Aug 12 '16 at 13:05
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Well, for the cows you can bring parasites and/or rats to work on their fodder. You probably don't want to mess with disease, but a nice anthrax would ruin may people's days.

The water situation is pretty easy to break. If they use the river for trade, then there are probably locks to allow movement past the dams. messing with the mechanisms for the locks, or causing damage to the dam structure itself all work, including overflow runoff works and things like that.

If you really want a spectacle, blow a dam, a smallish hole is typically enough, particularly if the overflows are jammed shut.

Additionally, if you have dams that's a perfect place for hydroelectric power generation, that's always fun to muck up. Either destruction for blackouts, or nice mayhem with unpredictable faults (sabotage) getting their techs up in the middle of the night, maybe capturing them, or worse.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking something along these lines... but infecting the cattle population with BSE (mad cow disease) would wreak havoc on both the food supply and the population (directly, with infection being passed to citizens, and indirectly through FUD about their food supply). Simply slip some tainted brain and meat into the cattle feed, and presto, you have an epidemic. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Aug 12 '16 at 20:14
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Don't use the soldiers at all, at least not overtly. Instead use that money to fund the seedier elements of the city, or would-be martyrs that have it in for this infidel-infested city.

Have them target infrastructure and conduct simple mass-shootings or terror attacks, absolutely wrecking the morale of the city. You could use your own covert units, but it's best to just let your expendables handle everything.

After a few months, you could march right in and be hailed as saviors and liberators.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure this would have the effect you'd want after only three months. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 11 '16 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ This might actually have the opposite effect. Just look at what's currently happening in Turkey. A failed military coup gave the Turkish government even more support from the population. Enough to practically turn the country into a dictatorship without anyone complaining. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 12 '16 at 8:56
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Since you reject nukes this must be a modern technology or higher city. Assuming it's not too far above current technology you can cause the city to become basically uninhabitable for far less than your budget.

A few saboteurs slip in, the target is their powerplant (or powerplants). Thermite charges on the transformers. Fire them all at once so they're not alerted to the threat until it's too late.

They now have nowhere near enough power to operate their city. No refrigeration--they're back to the old days where meat is consumed within hours of slaughter. (Good luck distributing it that fast.) All electric cooking devices don't work although there might be some gas powered ones. The sewer is gravity fed--but soon the treatment plant becomes a threat to health. Gas might stay up for a while although the storage facilities are almost certainly vulnerable to RPG.

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Offer 10 millions to the only person that can escape alive the city. You do a fake ultimatum (people in city does not know it is a fake ultimatum).

We will nuke the city within 1 month, we will take out of the city by helicopter only 1 person from the highest building within 29 days, we will give 10 millions to that person, and nuke the rest of the city. At day 30 we will launch the nuke.

The 50 trained persons will just hide there and there to watch the situation evolve, staying low-profile and eventually sniping during manifestations to avoid formation of big groups of people.

Also cutting out all internet/television/telephone is a must, without commuincations people can't organize, there will always be some smart person that will argue that the ultimatum is a fake. Stopping things like facebook, mail is the only way to effectively stops a rebellion and to give the information you want. If people can't feel they can have success and the only television transmission is against the rebellion then you cannot have people act as a real nation, because everyone would be on his own, so there will not be any negotiation at all. Just pure media-terrorism.

By saying that those forces want to bring havoc you indirectly already stated that your government is almost a dictature otherwise they would not take any military/police action.

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We would sometimes play a variant of this game, and there are a lot of answers. While writing about one method is boring, writing about the conflagration from many plots at once could be exciting.

You should look at the novel Wasp as ways a single infiltrator can disrupt a planet.

Seriously, the usual defense is to keep down unrest. While it only takes one person to shoot transformers and then shoot the first team to respond, and this does make every utility truck roll require SWAT, this only worked in a novel where people didn't like the utilities and police. Otherwise, citizens would rise up in numbers to hunt down the threats. In real life, attacks are not well organized.

For example, the usual suicide bomber is some twit with an engineering degree, no job, and recently dumped by his girlfriend. Instead of engineering an automated death clank, these twits kill themselves in some messy way to commit suicide with extra bloodshed. A major part of your story would need to be on the unusual motivation needed to make a rational attack. The motivation would need to survive the human responses to maiming innocent children.

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Guerrilla PR Campaign

50 well-armed and well-funded troops wouldn’t stand a chance in a city of 5 million. They simply couldn’t do enough to destroy the population or cause enough mayhem without taking out the City’s Dam (which presumable the King would frown upon). A city of that size would have a police force, civilian guard, angry locals, etc, etc, that wouldn’t be too happy about these guys running amok in the city and would do their best to stop them. In fact this could actual help galvanise the city against the King.

Their best chance is to take the $10 million and hire a good public relations firm to help them get their message out that the King is angry and plans to lay siege to the city in three months. They could put out filers, run ads, and maybe write a catchy theme tune for the upcoming siege…

         "...Get out its not too late, 
         Before you meet your fate, 
         You dirty stinking ingrates, 
         Escape, escape, escape…”

Each person they can convince to leave the city would be a draw for two more. With a little luck the city would be depopulated and still standing when the King and his army arrives.

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If the city is as reliant on computer control as our western world is, the answer is clear:

Attack their computer systems.

Take your budget to develop viruses (think Stuxnet) and train your elite soldiers in hacking. Then infect their control systems. The infection would at first remain silent, so you have time to infect all the important parts.

The attacks would in particular do the following:

  • Destroy the financial infrastructure. Most of the money in modern times is stored on hard disks. Make sure backups didn't work correctly for long enough that any good one has been overwritten. Then erase all hard disks, and kill the software.

  • If the traffic lights are centrally controlled, then switch them all to green at the same time (causing massive accidents everywhere in the town). Destroy the normal routines controlling the traffic lights, so normal function cannot be easily recovered.

  • Similarly, disrupt public transport (like railway systems).

  • Disrupt communication, by making all internet routers go down, and also disrupt the phone system.

  • Disrupt water supply.

  • After the chaos begins to grow, and before people had a chance to get things operational again, kill the power grid. Ideally not by simply shutting it down, but by overloading the transformers so they need to be replaced. At this moment, normal life in the city will essentially come to a halt.

  • At this time the chaos will be large enough that your elite soldiers will have no trouble to physically get to secure places and do more traditional sabotage, if this should still seem necessary.

As a bonus, since they are cyber-attacks, all those points except for the last one can be done remotely. No need to risk anyone to be caught in the city before it is effectively unoperational.

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